India has blessed us with a number of long weekends recently, thanks to a large number of festivals and celebrations. Most of these holidays I have spent either recovering from busy working weeks, or getting to know Mumbai better—although I have barely scratched the surface yet. Last weekend, however, we decided to escape the Maximum City for a few days and jumped on a budget airline flight headed to the lake city of Udaipur in Rajasthan.
I’m pleased that we did.
As Maharashtra celebrated what is undoubtedly its loudest festival by immersing gigantic statues of Ganesh in buckets of water, while techno music pumps out of oversized speakers; I found peace, tranquillity (well, as much as one can get in India), as well as some spectacular sunsets.
In the hope of finding some fellow travellers we decided to forego the comforts of a luxury hotel, instead booking into a hostel. This would be my first experience of an Indian hostel and I had some reservations, so we booked a private room.
We arrived in Udaipur at 8.30 in the evening and set about the daunting task of finding the hostel. Giving directions in India can be troublesome as many drivers don’t know addresses and will ask for a landmark instead. Thankfully, the hostel address literature had located it next to the Royal Palace.
That must be easy to find, right?
The driver seemed confused at our choice of accommodation, clearly never having heard of the hostel we named. He pulled up outside a large hotel and said that he could go no further as the roads were not passable for cars. He insisted that we needed to take an auto-rickshaw from there. Sensing a scam we sighed and approached a rickshaw driver with our address. He had not heard of the hostel either. More drivers approached, vying for our business, and one offered to take us for 100 rupees (£1). It soon transpired that this driver also had absolutely no idea where we wanted to go. He drove up and down steep alleyways, barely wide enough for the rickshaw to pass through. He stopped outside a number of hotels, turning to us expectantly, “This one? You stay here?”
“No”, we sighed. This could be a long night.
A man rode up on a motorbike. “Where are you going?” he called.
“Zostel”, we replied. “Our hostel is called Zostel”, we repeated for what felt like the millionth time.
“I know Zostel!” he cried gleefully. “I’ll take you”
By this time we had built up quite an entourage, all the previous drivers keen to see where our mysterious lodgings were located. We drove down a tiny alleyway, so steep that I feared the brakes on the rickshaw might fail and plunge us into the lake lurking darkly in the black void below. With nobody around in the deserted street, I felt sure that we were about to become victims of a scam, or worse.
To our surprise, the last building before the lake had a familiar sign painted on the wall—a sign we recognised from the booking site. We had arrived.
The hostel has a rooftop bar, so we headed up there as soon as we dropped our bags. We were greeted with the most wonderful view that I have ever had at a hostel. Above us towered the magnificent walls of the Royal Palace, brightly lit by an almost full moon in front of which circled the largest bats I have ever seen.
Before us lay Pichola Lake: a shimmering halo crowning Lake Palace—a hotel made famous by Bond movie Octopussy.
The view was even better the next morning, when we realised that choosing the private room had paid off in more ways than we could imagine. The lake, now contrasted by dark mountains beyond, came to life with boats cheerfully skimming its smooth surface, and children diving into cool, grey waters.
Udaipur is everything that you expect from India: exotic, colourful, chaotic, heart breaking, and enlightening. It is the shopper’s paradise, the foodie’s heaven, the lovers’ retreat, and the soul-searcher’s sanctuary.
But, what I loved most is how the rooftop is King—or maybe Queen would be a more apt description. To beat the sticky heat of the narrow streets below, there is nothing better than the cool lake breezes on the rooftop terraces as you eat lunch, or enjoy a few sundown cocktails.
In the reception of the hostel is a chalkboard that invites guests to write down what they want to do before they die. I think that a visit to Udaipur should certainly be something that every traveller should do before they take their final journey of all.
What do you think? Would you like to visit Udaipur? Please let me know in the comments below.